COVID – 5 Mental Health 5 A Day

At the moment I think it’s fair to say that many of us if not all of us are suffering from anxiety – whether that’s over the unknown, worrying about our loved ones, job, finances, the future…..Added to which a lot of us are stuck at home not able to carry out normal everyday life. This allows anxiety, worry and mental unease to go into overdrive.

A number of years ago the NHS usefully put together something called the Mental Health 5 a Day. It isn’t a magic bullet, but it does effectively pull together fundamental aspects of keeping our head healthy on a daily basis and I have converted these to the acronym COVID-5. If you want to see this on video click here.

Connect

When we are isolated from other people it can have a hugely negative impact on our brains dramatically undermining our well-being. However extensive research shows that social support can dramatically improve our mental health. This is of course immensely hindered by self-isolation but does not become impossible. It is however important not to fall into the trap of thinking that spending all day on social media keeps you connected. It does, but not in the way that really helps mental well-being.

What you can do:

  • Make a continued effort to phone and facetime your closest friends and family. Even if you don’t normally connect with them – now is a good time to make it a daily habit.
  • Listen and be in the moment with people rather than thinking of what you’re going to say next.
  • Pick up the phone rather than sending an e-mail or text message.

Observe

Observing is about being mindful. Mindfulness is about noticing what’s going on around us, taking notice of sounds, scents, sensations and our breathing. Doing this quietens the constant chatter that typically runs through our mind and enables anxiety to build. I have put some links to good apps at the bottom of this article. If you find the idea of this difficult simply make a point to notice things that you would normally overlook. The shape of your partner’s nose, the weave of the fabric on your sofa, the shape of the clouds you can see from your window. It shouldn’t feel like a big effort. See – more about mindfulness.

What you can do:

  • Use the headspace app
  • Breathe – it sounds silly but we often hold our breath for long periods of time when we’re anxious. Make a conscious effort to breath deeply once an hour.
  • Make an effort to notice the sight, sound, smell and tastes you encounter in everyday activities. For example as you’re taking a shower feel the sensation of water on your skin, listen to the sound of the water washing away, feel your feet on the shower floor. You can do this when you’re eating, walking, sitting on the train, cleaning your teeth etc.

 Volunteer

More recently researchers have found that altruism is ‘hard wired’ into our brain, but it’s just often not supported by our modern world. Selflessness is closely linked to our well-being triggering the reward mechanisms in the brain. Giving to others, being pro-social is good for us and has the added benefit of being good for others too. This is more difficult if you can’t physically see people but there are still many ways that you can volunteer.

What you can do:

  • If you can still get out offer to help someone who can’t by getting their shopping for them or picking up their prescriptions
  • Call someone who you know may be anxious or lonely and just listen
  • If you’re working at home and have a little spare time on your hands offer up your skills and capabilities to someone who could use your help.

Introduce Movement

In 2006 I did a study (Bunce & Murden, 2006) which showed the impact of continued physical activity on protecting the frontal lobe of the brain, the bit that helps us to plan and organize and more importantly to regulate our emotions. Exercise has also been shown to ward off depression, decrease anxiety and rebalance the hormones in our bodies. Again this can be hard if you’re stuck inside but there are still ways of moving.

What you can do:

  • Make sure you get out everyday at least once or twice a day to walk, run or cycle. If you have a garden do some gardening.
  • Plan to get up at least every 45 minutes and walk around your flat, jump on the spot, stretch. If you live in a house go up and down the stairs a few times
  • Find an online exercise class that suits your fitness level

Develop new skills and knowledge

We evolved to be curious. Continued adult learning has been shown to positively impact confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, life-satisfaction, capacity to cope and general well-being. Learning also helps us to develop social skills, ultimately extending social networks, and promoting tolerance of other people.

What you can do:

  • Watch a Ted Talk, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts
  • Take an online course in that language you’ve always wanted to learn, or subject you’ve always been interested in
  • Learn to knit, garden, play the guitar, draw
  • Read, read and read some more

You may find it useful to write down your mental health 5 a day and do it everyday. And remember, although the general principles are globally applicable we’re all different, the individual aspects need to be tailored to what works best for you. I’d love to hear your ideas for each of the 5 areas….For now – stay safe, stay well and look after each other.

C – Connect

O – Observe

V – Volunteer

I – Introduce movement

D – Develop new skills and knowledge

MINDFULNESS APPS

Buddhify: http://buddhify.com
Headspace: http://www.headspace.com
iMindfulness:https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/imindfulness/id473747142?mt=8 Mindfulness Daily: http://www.mindfulnessdailyapp.com
Smiling Mind: http://www.smilingmind.com.au

References

Bunce, D., & Murden, F. (2006). Age, aerobic fitness, executive function, and episodic memory. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 18(2), 221-233.

https://ggia.berkeley.edu/practice/mindful_breathing

Schuller, T., Preston, J., Hammond, C., Brassett-Grundy, A., & Bynner, J. (2004). The benefits of learning: The impact of education on health, family life and social capital. Routledge.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

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